Curtis Rogers still replays it in his mind, a groundhog moment that never grows old.
Johnson High School pulling away from Southern California track powers in the 4x100-meter relay in the 1986 CIF State Track and Field Championships in Norwalk. Rogers, the second leg on that relay team, was one of the most accomplished track performers in Sac-Joaquin Section history.
Rogers ran on scholarship at Cal and still owns long-jump records for the Bears, but the high school relay moment still resonates. It lingers because the Warriors are still in the news 28 years later.
Woodcreek of Roseville entered the 94th CIF meet this weekend in Clovis with the state’s leading time of 40.93 seconds in the 400 relay, which also supplanted Johnson’s 41.24 set earlier in 1986 as the area’s all-time fastest. Woodcreek runners know of the ’86 Warriors, and the Timberwolves understand the magnitude of Saturday’s CIF finals.
Johnson remains the only area team to win a state 400 relay, breaking the tape in 41.30 while holding off favored Taft High of Woodland Hills at Cerritos College. So here’s Rogers now, at 46, living in Elk Grove, working as a state auditor and wrestling with conflicting emotions. And full disclosure to his bosses. Rogers tends to peek at video of that 400-relay moment at this time of year, so excuse the forward-lean in his seat.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Rogers said. “There’s part of me that wants Woodcreek to win. My heart is there. They have a great chance, and it’d be great for this area. But there’s another side of me. I cherish the fact that we have the distinction of being the only area team to win the state 400 relay. That’s special.”
Rogers and his relay mates – Larry King, Kevin Coleman and Ronnie Brown – embraced their underdog role. Sacramento teams just didn’t compete well in the relays, as the Southland owned the sprints, and that still rings true. King, now coaching at Monterey Trail, got a good start as the lead leg. Rogers, the only Warrior to regularly crack 11 seconds in the 100, did his job by getting his team into the lead. He handed off to Coleman, who fed to Brown, who blasted down the straightaway and won handily.
Brown was inspired by history and the huffing and puffing of powerful Quincy Watts, the Taft anchor leg who went on to Olympic fame. Brown raised his arms triumphantly and let his momentum carry him around the curve of the track, where teammates caught up to him.
Johnson coaches Eural Smothers and Johnny Ware celebrated, too. Smothers called his foursome “The Invaders from the North.”
“We went down there to make history, and we did, and it still sticks,” Rogers said. “To beat Watts was amazing. He became really great.”
Rogers was a regular on the medal stand that day. He won the long jump at 23 feet, 10 inches; was fourth in the 200 in 21.88, won by Watts in 21.67; and took sixth in the 100 in 10.86.
Taft edged Johnson 26-25 for the state team title. Jesuit was third with 20 points and likely would have won the meet had distance greats Mark and Eric Mastalir doubled. Instead, Eric took the 3,200 in a still-standing section-best 8:44.97, and Mark won the 1,600 in 4:07.81, meaning Sacramento sizzled in distances short and long in perhaps the region’s greatest CIF finals showing.
Watts kept getting faster. He won Olympic gold in the 400 in 1992 in an Olympic-record 43.50. His 4x400 relay leg of 43.10 in those Olympics helped obliterate the world record in 2:55.74.
Rogers said the Woodcreek relay of Alex Rotteveel, Colton George, Aspyn Walton and Tyus Williamson reminds him of his foursome.
“I’ve seen them run, and their stick passes are immaculate, and they’re impressive as a group,” Rogers said.
Rogers said the CIF State meet and the looming USA Track and Field Championships at Sacramento State “make me have that itch.” But he’s no ringer. He doesn’t race anymore, not even to the fridge.
“I’m so far out of shape, I get lightheaded if I get out of the chair too fast,” Rogers said. “But I look back to when I was pretty good. Pretty neat.”